The wrestlers I talked about last time were either all big stars or those still building toward legendary careers, even John Morrison, who at this point, even without the world championships, has built a considerable legacy and mystique that will be cherished and analyzed for generations. There are others, though, who will never reach even that level, sometimes through no fault of their own, because sometimes, that’s just how this business works. These are my favorite underdogs, these are the ones lost to:
X. Wasted Potential
Inasmuch as wrestling itself is a subjective sport, where winners are based entirely on the needs of the moment and where that moment might lead, and fans have a huge part in that when they decide to respond, it’s hard to sometimes step back and objectively report on the stars who could’ve meant so much more than they ultimately did. Most of them can be identified by tentative, even perennial pushes they received in their promotions, which for those they connect with, can become agonizing after a long period rooting for them, with very little to show for it. These are the wrestlers who end up looking, and not to put this too harshly, like jokes, and seem like they can easily be forgotten, even dismissed. “They had their chance,” you’ll hear, “and they blew it.”
I don’t ken to that sort of logic. Sometimes it really is a matter of too many stars, too little time. Shawn Michaels waited years to become a world champion. So did Steve Austin. Imagine if HBK had never accomplished his goal. Can you say “Marty Jannetty”? His former Rockers partner kept resurfacing, and it wasn’t as if anyone ever said anything bad about his work in the ring. It was just, Shawn got all the attention, all the chances, and was kept on the roster until the moment finally came. It was the same for Bret Hart, even. By the time he was called on to wear the big strap, it seemed as if every other possibility had already been exhausted, and even then, the company spent a year keeping it away from him with a wrestler who was his polar opposite. John Cena first competed for a world title in 2003, and yet didn’t capture one until 2005. I could go on and on with examples just of those who eventually “fulfilled their potential,” but what about those who didn’t?
Andrew Martin, who competed for most of his career as Test, may be one of the biggest examples I can think of. He was set up to be something of the second coming of Kevin Nash, and yet, like a lot of that breed, nothing ever really came of it. He had his closest brush with success during the McMahon-Helmsley Era in 1999-2000, when he was Stephanie’s intended groom, which led into a mini feud with Triple H, who was otherwise occupied with a dozen other challengers, which happened to include Mr. McMahon himself, and not to mention The Rock, just as the “Great One” was entering the period of his greatest popularity. A lot of things can be said about what held Test back, with the biggest of them being that he was never that charismatic a personality, and that perhaps he never quite solidified a style for his matches. Still, WWE saw enough potential in him that he stuck around and was a featured player for years, in a variety of roles, many of which might have pushed him to the next level, if only a window had been there. He was a classic victim of circumstances. When he was with the company, there wasn’t a need for a Kevin Nash. Even Kevin Nash found that out. Even during a brief comeback during the early ECW brand era, when Test finally brought his physical talents to a peak, his reputation spoiled his potential. Sadly, of course, he died young, and all that potential became a moot point. That doesn’t mean that his career as a professional wrestler should be viewed as a failure.
The next man I’ll address has been known by many names, and never reached near the level of even Test. He also, if you’ll mind a little rhyming, liked to compete in a dress. His name, during this period, was Vito, and he’s easily one of the biggest victims of fans not appreciating what’s right in front of them imaginable. They treated him like he was Rico, the gay stylist who actively sought jeers as part of his gimmick, when what Vito should have elicited was cheers. “The toughest man to ever wear a dress,” is how he used to be described, and that should have been it, because his wrestling skills were phenomenal. He knew how to work a match, how to make it dynamic, how to work a submission hold (which very few wrestlers ever bother with), and how, even if it did not ultimately work in his favor, to motivate the audience. There’s no reason why Vito shouldn’t have become one of the most popular wrestlers WWE had during his brief tenure with the Smackdown brand. He had more natural charisma than John Cena, and this is coming from someone who willfully suffered through Cena’s horrid rap gimmick and considered him a breakout star in the early months of 2004, when he was becoming the secret MVP of Smackdown, a role Vito might have assumed, given the chance.
Speaking of MVP, there’s also MVP himself, a wrestler who very quickly and easily established himself as a franchise player, so easily and naturally that it was held against him, and the role he inhabited was already too good to replace. There was literally nothing he could do, unless he was finally given the nod for greater things, for world championship gold. He was never given that chance, and never even experienced a slight flirtation with that level. He’s one of the many victims of the brand era. For every John Cena, there is an MVP.
Tatanka was one of my early favorites. In hindsight he’s very much an Ultimate Warrior substitute, a wrestler with a mystical drive and energy, who can command the ring and the attention of the audience, and there was only ever one thing holding him back: lack of any charisma on the mic. You could easily argue that this was one thing he never needed, but obviously WWE thought differently, and so even a lengthy undefeated streak ultimately meant nothing, came to a dramatic defeat, repackaging, a heel turn he could do nothing with, and then obscurity, and the few odd meaningless comebacks. He could have been so much more, given the chance.
Crush was another star WWE gave an untold number of chances to, and he adapted many times and successfully fulfilled what was required of him, but what he lacked was the chance to be the spotlight heel, and he was always in the wrong era. He would have done better with just a decade’s shift, might have been that foe who forced Hulk Hogan to face a worthy challenge, and not just a manufactured one. That wasn’t something the company ever needed when Crush was actually wrestling. Yokozuna was such a massive obstacle that in his best moment Crush was still forced to play second-fiddle.
Anyway, one of my unabashed favorite was Paul Birchall, and he seems to embody everything that ever went wrong for wrestlers of this type. He had all the gifts he needed in the ring. He had the look, he had a persona, and he had the opportunity. And then Vince McMahon allowed Paul to be transformed into a pirate, and then Vince determined that this pirate gimmick had no future (this despite the movie character Jack Sparrow only just becoming a craze). I loved “Pirate” Paul Birchall. I want to make that clear. Even though it wasn’t necessarily necessary to put Paul over, it was still something he was inexplicably able to make work. Even his breathtaking C-4 somersault slam, rechristened “Walking the Plank,” fit. Except even without Vince’s kiss of death, it never went anywhere. He was made into fodder for Bobby Lashley. Paul Birchall, who could have revamped the whole face of Smackdown with the personality of a brawler who could gracefully soar through the air, was deemed to be inconsequential. Paul and the pirate were soon tossed back into the sea. He resurfaced a few years later, and actually spent more time with WWE than his previous tenure, but his spirit seemed to be broken. The price of the contract this time seemed to be that he was stripped of everything that made him special. By the end, he was busy arguing that “The Hurricane” had to be Gregory Helms. Well…Is that really what the “Ripper” was best for?
Even mentioning the name Orlando Jordan now conjures bizarre images, thanks to Orlando himself, who has updated the homophobic gimmick for the 21st century but attempting to make it cleanly bisexual. Mr. Jordan, that is a distinction that makes no difference at all. Here’s a guy who could have become something of a replacement Rock, having trained with that clan, and adopted many of the same stylings, and yet eventually found himself dismissed as the new Virgil, the “Chief of Staff” for JBL, and the guy who kept tapping out in record time to Chris Benoit’s Crippler Crossface. It didn’t seem to matter that Jordan began evolving as a performer, that he grew more comfortable on the mic, and even put on brave and innovative struggles against the Crossface, something normally reserved for talent far above his level. Once deemed a joke, always a joke, and the worst of it is that Jordan himself eventually came to embrace it. Not in a good way, sir. One of the sorriest stories possible.
Petey Williams, if TNA could ever have found itself capable of supporting an X division star not named “A.J. Styles,” could easily have become one of the biggest names in wrestling, but instead became something of an undersized joke himself. Imagine if this had happened to Rey Mysterio. Just a damn shame that everyone seems perfectly happy to have let this happen.
Same, too, with Sonjay Dutt, who couldn’t have tried harder to work the charisma he had, and the skills he possessed, all to nothing much at all. Dutt and Williams were like the Dean Malenko of TNA, the workers who didn’t seem to have to work at all. It’s no longer, sadly, a Dean Malenko world.
It never belonged to the likes of Sylvester Terkay. Whereas someone like Ken Anderson, who will always have a brash personality to fall back on, can work against having a wrestling style that defies expectations, this was never to be for Terkay, who could have been another Smackdown star to transform perceptions, but was quickly abandoned. At least Elijah Burke still has the chance to salvage some of his legacy.
Jimmy Yang, who became the most improbable redneck in wrestling history in an effort to bridge an impossible gap, is like WWE’s version of Dutt and Williams, someone with phenomenal talent, but no way to make it work effectively in the context available to him.
Jamie Noble had a number of chances available to him, but became another victim of an unfortunate gimmick. Seems wrestling fans aren’t too keen on supporting trailer trash. Sucks, too, because Noble had the ability to surpass the remarkable stature of, yes, Dean Malenko.
Marc Mero, who once competed as a wrestling version of Little Richard, and was eventually eclipsed by Rena “Sable” Lesnar, had incredible potential, but circumstances just kept getting in his way. Could have been the new “Superfly.” Could have been the first MMA-style wrestler. Could have been great. Never got the chance.
Then, of course, there’s Carlito. Grew incredibly frustrated with WWE, and there’s a damn good reason, because he was never allowed to do anything but what he had, like MVP, done from the start, which was, like Scott Hall as Razor Ramon, become an instant star. WWE, and its fans, really don’t like that sort of thing, apparently. You have to earn it. And sometimes, even when you do, it’s either not enough, or too late.
That’s just the way it goes, sometimes.